Asia/Africa update: June 13 2017



Here’s some good news:

The World Bank on Tuesday approved financing worth more than $500 million for Afghanistan to support a string of projects to boost the economy, help improve service delivery in five cities and support Afghan refugees sent back from Pakistan.

The bank said the six grants, including donor money, worth some $520 million would help the Afghan government “at a time of uncertainty when risks to the economy are significant.”

Of course, this news isn’t that good, because the money, while desperately needed, is still going to an Afghan government that is arguably the most corrupt government on the planet. In particular, it is a government that seems to specialize in skimming money sent there for humanitarian purposes. Like supporting refugees.

Here’s some probably bad news:

U.S. President Donald Trump has given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan, a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday, opening the door for future troop increases requested by the U.S. commander.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said no immediate decision had been made about the troop levels, which are now set at about 8,400.

Of course, this news isn’t all bad, because…oh, wait, actually it is. Absent some change in strategy that shows some promise of turning the war around–wishing on a monkey’s paw for an Afghan government that doesn’t totally suck, for example–shoving more American soldiers into this sausage maker, where they can shoot up some more civilian homes and escalate the Taliban’s reconquest of the country, accomplishes nothing. “Send in the (extra) Marines” isn’t a strategy, it’s a tactic. And changing tactics isn’t going to fix what’s wrong in Afghanistan.

Also? It’s not a great look for the idea of a “civilian-led” military.


Speaking of good news, here’s the commander of the Indonesian military, General Gatot Nurmantyo, with some of his own:

“After observation, we see that in almost every province … there are already IS cells, but they are sleeper cells,” Nurmantyo told reporters in the capital, Jakarta.

He singled out the predominantly Christian province of Papua as one of the few exceptions.

“These sleeper cells can easily join up with other radical cells,” he said.

With ISIS-linked militants still hanging on in Marawi (we’ll get to that), the possibility of some kind of region-wide surge in ISIS activity remains high. If Nurmantyo isn’t just being alarmist, then the potential for increased ISIS activity in Indonesia seems quite high.


The battle in Marawi has entered a fourth week, and while the ISIS-aligned fighters who took the city over three weeks ago have been reduced, allegedly, to only about 20 percent of the city (ISIS propaganda says they control 2/3 of the city, but I’m inclined to take that with a grain of salt), it seems Philippine forces are having a hard time finishing them off. The urban terrain is being blamed for the struggle taking as long as it has. The Philippine military was hoping to have the city liberated by yesterday, Philippines Independence Day, but clearly that didn’t happen.


Panama’s defection yesterday left only 20 countries in the world that diplomatically recognize Taiwan (AKA the Republic of China) instead of mainland China (AKA the People’s Republic of China), and other Latin American/Caribbean countries are expected to follow soon as Beijing tests the theory that money can buy you love. The fact that Taiwan and China have obviously been separate states for decades now and that treating them as alternative Chinas is increasingly absurd is beside the point, because as long as Beijing has money and power to throw around, no country that recognized the PRC would dare recognize Taiwan as Taiwan. Beijing’s insistence that Taiwan is not its own nation is ironically probably increasing the Taiwanese population’s desire to declare their independence from the mainland, which of course is likely to cause a war that just about everybody on the planet would rather not see.


Here’s China/Tibet scholar Kevin Carrico on why self-immolation has become the only way for independence-minded Tibetans to register their opposition to Chinese rule:

The obsessive securitization of the Tibetan Plateau, seeing and tracking everything, has created an environment in which collective acts of resistance are now virtually impossible — they are nipped in the bud well before they could ever evolve into large-scale protests.

Even lone individual protestors shouting slogans in support of Tibetan independence or the return of the Dalai Lama are disappeared before their message can be heard.

All of this would seem to be a sign of enhanced stability, the state’s goal. Yet it is precisely this “stable” environment that has produced self-immolation as a form of protest. As Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser observes in her recent book Tibet on Fire, self-immolation requires little planning, can be executed on one’s own in an instant, and is thus virtually impossible to stop. At the same time, it conveys an unambiguous message of resistance. It is the most dramatic way of speaking out when everything else is silenced.

While the cult of stability makes any other forms of protest impossible in Tibet, the issues driving protest — religious oppression, the second-rate status of Tibetans, exploitation of the poor — haven’t gone away. The stamping-down of protest in the name of stability has created the string of self-immolations, a final defiance that no security measure can stop. This practice has now taken on deep cultural and religious significance as a form of self-sacrifice for a higher cause. And this development, perceived as yet another threat to stability, has in turn led to ever greater determination by the state to stamp out dissent once and for all through an anti-immolation crackdown.


Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was imprisoned by North Korean authorities for trying to steal a sign in January 2016, has been released into American custody in a coma. It’s not clear how long he’s been in a coma, but the last time he was seen in public was at his trial in March, and he looked unwell then, so reports that he’s been in this coma for over a year are not out of the question. Pyongyang is reportedly insisting that he a combination of botulism and a sleeping pill (?) sent him into the coma, but US officials allegedly have intelligence reports indicating that Warmbier was regularly beaten while in North Korean custody and that at one point it was feared that he’d been beaten to death. Swedish consular officials, who handle US diplomatic business in North Korea, have been denied access to Warmbier for months, and it now seems this is because the North Korean’s didn’t want to admit his condition.

The US is once again considering levying “secondary sanctions” on North Korea. Secondary sanctions apply to any companies that do business with the target, and prevent those businesses from having any access to the US and its market. Since most companies would understandably privilege the ability to do business in the US to the ability to do business in [insert country here], they can be quite effective. These are the kinds of sanctions that are, for example, credited with leveraging Iran to begin negotiating over its nuclear program several years ago, although the degree to which sanctions played a role in that decision is debated.


Japan is about to get a new emperor, as Crown Prince Naruhito:

Hello, Crown Prince Naruhito!
is set to take over for his father, the 83 year old Emperor Akihito. Akihito has chosen to abdicate after a couple of health scares and, maybe, with a desire to live out his remaining time in peace and quiet, and Naruhito is expected to succeed him by early 2019 at the latest. The last Japanese emperor to abdicate was Emperor Kokaku…in 1817. So this is kind of an unusual situation. So unusual that the Japanese parliament had to pass a law allowing Akihito to step down, and it made sure that the law was written so that it would only apply in this one instance.



The Qatar-Saudi fallout has hit North Africa in a major way–Morocco, for example, is offering to mediate and now plans to send food to Qatar–but Libya is as closely entangled in the mess as anybody. Alex Thurston explains how the Saudi “blacklist” is already being manipulated by elements in Libya:

Given that context, it is perhaps no surprise that the House of Representatives’ National Defense and Security Committee not only welcomed the Saudi/Emirati/Egyptian/Bahriani list, but also issued its own list (Arabic) of 75 Libyan individuals and 9 institutions that it alleges are associated with terrorism and with Qatar. The list includes numerous Muslim Brotherhood leaders, various figures associated with Qatar-backed media channels, individuals close to the Grand Mufti, people in the anti-Haftar Benghazi Defense Brigades, and prominent members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.


The Trump administration reportedly feels so strongly that the UN Security Council should not authorize the new French-backed, 5000-soldier strong G5 joint Sahel military force that it’s considering vetoing a French resolution authorizing the unit if it comes to a vote. Most of the council backs this measure apart from the US and its pet Corgi the UK. And to be honest, Washington and London have no real problem with this pan-Sahel army. But they don’t want to pay for it and–here’s my take–the Trump administration especially doesn’t want to legitimize the notion that the UN has the power to authorize these sorts of forces. The administration claims to have vague concerns about the “viability” of this effort, but in reality it has specific concerns about the viability of the UN, in that it would like the UN to cease being viable.


A regional summit on the South Sudanese crisis ended yesterday with consensus from the six participants–Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda–that both sides in the country’s three-and-a-half year-long civil war need to get back to the negotiating table (apologies for FT’s paywall):

In a rare show of unity, the leaders warned that they would work with the UN to ensure that those guilty of human rights abuses in the world’s youngest nation would be held accountable. The strong statement from South Sudan’s neighbours suggested that they are losing patience with Salva Kiir, the country’s president, as the effects of the civil war spill over into the region.

“Today we are confronted by increased hostilities among these parties, flagrant violations of the ceasefire, the emergence of new opposition and armed groups,” Festus Mogae, head of a regional committee monitoring a collapsed peace agreement, said at the summit. “The rapidly deteriorating political, security, humanitarian and economic situation in the country has caused unprecedented displacement, famine and growing civilian flight.”

The implicit pressure on Kiir to show some flexibility is new–regional actors have generally avoided criticizing him too heavily.


Speaking of Qatar fallout, the Somali government has reportedly rejected Saudi threats to cut aid and promises of millions of dollars in new aid and is, apparently, going to remain neutral in the intra-GCC spat.


There has been a recent spate of Boko Haram attacks in northern Cameroon:

Five suicide bombers crossed from Nigeria into the Mayo Sava division of northern Cameroon on Saturday, said Babila Akao, the most senior government official in that area.

He told VOA by phone that the bombers were targeting the towns of Mora and Kolofata, but only two were able to detonate their vests.

On Sunday, the government announced that another suicide bomber had blown herself up at a military base near Mora, killing one soldier.

It was the 27th reported suicide bombing this year on Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria. A third of those attacks have taken place in the past two-and-a-half weeks, including an attack on a camp for internally displaced persons, also in Mora.

This is more evidence, in addition to its recent activity in Nigeria, that the once-moribund Boko Haram may be on a bit of a resurgence lately.


More than 900 prisoners were released during a massive jailbreak in North Kivu province on Sunday. The Uganda-based Islamist group Allied Democratic Forces seems to have been responsible, so one assumes some portion of the prisoners who were released are ADF fighters.


I guess this is one way to complain about shitty public services:

Angry South African commuters have set fire to train carriages, attacked shops and overturned vehicles in Cape Town’s main train station after hours of delays to services.

Eight carriages were set alight at the station on Monday night, the train operator Metrorail said. Video posted on social media showed carriages engulfed in flames, and smoke from the fires was visible from across the city.

Some shops in the main area of the station were also looted.

Metrorail regional manager Richard Walker apologized for the delays, blamed on a problem with electrical feeds, but condemned the unrest.

“We acknowledge that commuters have legitimate service concerns but we can never condone criminality,” he said in a statement.

Yes, well, that seems reasonable too, come to think of it. Anyway I definitely think the continued underfunding and erosion of the public sector around the world is something that is working really well and that we should keep doing for sure.

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